Animals in tourism

In many tourism destinations around the world, opportunities to view or interact with animals are commonly offered and very popular with many holidaymakers. 

These experiences can be enjoyable, educational and support conservation. However, where experiences are not carefully managed they can jeopardise animal welfare and your holiday experience. Animal welfare is a complex area given the different requirements for different species.

While animal attractions are undoubtedly popular with customers, they want to be assured of good animal welfare standards. In ABTA’s latest Holiday Habits research two-thirds (66%) of people said that they have concerns about the wider impacts of tourism and how animals are treated. 

ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines

The ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines set out basic welfare requirements and unacceptable practices.

This guidance and its supporting manuals are intended to be practical guides for travel providers to issue to their suppliers, for tourist boards in destinations, for destination governments and ultimately and most importantly, for animal attraction and experienced suppliers. They consolidate an abundance of existing guidance and animal welfare science.

ABTA’s role is to provide advice, guidance and tools to its Members to support them to implement approaches that respect animal welfare. Implementation of the guidelines is voluntary.

The Overview manual is publically available below. The five supporting manuals are available to ABTA Members in the Member Zone. Members' suppliers should contact the ABTA Member directly for access.

For non-ABTA Members the guidelines are also available to purchase.


ABTA's Animal Welfare Guidelines

We are also signposting Members to a range of existing evidence on dolphins in captivity, as follows: 

NGO concerns regarding cetacea in captivity are set out in The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity (CAMMIC) report, A vision for whales and dolphins in tourism, and Behind the smile, which argue that it is not possible to fully meet welfare requirements for cetaceans in captivity.

Bodies such as the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) and Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) work with marine parks, zoos and aquaria to evaluate and audit them against welfare criteria.

The Five Domains 

ABTA’s Animal Welfare guidelines (2019 edition) and its supporting guidance manuals build upon the principles of the extended Five Domains Model (developed by Mellor & Beausoleil (2015), originally based on the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s Five Freedoms (FAWC 1979)) and the Welfare Quality® criteria.

ABTA's Animal Welfare Guidelines - the five domains

Basic welfare requirements 

The guidelines outline basic welfare requirements for animals managed and/or dependent upon human beings with additional basic welfare requirements for businesses with working animals.

How ABTA Members are using the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines

ABTA provides practical guidance for its Members and their suppliers, to encourage good practice in animal protection and welfare by providing businesses with knowledge and guidance. 

Many ABTA Members include animal welfare standards as part of supplier contracts and carry out independent checks. Travel providers working with these guidelines have also agreed that they will not sell animal attractions or activities to customers where there are unacceptable practices. The industry has made good progress in recent years, and will continue to learn and respond as new issues come to light.

The Overview manual is publicly available and can be downloaded below.

See some great examples below of how ABTA Members are helping to safeguard animal welfare.

DER Touristik Group

DER Touristik Group firmly believes that animal-friendly tourism is possible. The company’s goal is to protect animals against abuse within the context of tourism, and not to interfere with or adversely affect them in their natural habitats. For this reason, DER Touristik adopted an animal welfare policy as well as binding criteria and standards for all packages involving animals that are particularly affected by tourism activities. 

In a first step, activities defined as inappropriate were removed from the supply. Examples include elephant rides and shows, swimming with dolphins or interactions with wildcats. Instead, the company promotes attractions that enable its customers to responsibly and safely experience the local world of animals, for instance elephant-friendly excursions that focus on observation and educational programmes.

To ensure that its products live up to the standards, the company commissions outside experts to carry out audits in accordance with the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism issued by ABTA. Attractions that meet the minimum requirements are invited to cooperatively improve the situation. The ultimate aim is to sustainably change the situation and increase the welfare standards together with the providers instead of leaving the affected animals behind without prospect of change. 

With the help of the company's own destination agencies and selected partners, DER Touristik is working locally to improve the lives of animals and to develop alternative solutions. In the process, careful attention is also being paid to cultural circumstances as well as to the well-being of people. 
DER Touristik invests in staff training and customer communication to raise awareness and improve the understanding of animal welfare issues. As an important complement to its operational part of business, the company strives to support recognised animal welfare projects in its travel destinations through the DER Touristik Foundation. 

For further details on DER Touristik’s animal welfare policy, please click here.

G Adventures

G Adventures believes that a robust animal welfare policy is an essential part of a commitment to responsible tourism and to making the world a better place. This commitment led to the adoption of ABTA’s animal welfare guidelines in 2014. G Adventures uses these guidelines along with advice from other organizations, including World Animal Protection, to inform decisions regarding which activities to include or exclude when developing tours.

If a new activity is proposed that includes animals, the potential supplier must fill out a detailed assessment form and comply with requirements in order to be approved as a partner. If a supplier can make changes in order to be compliant, they’re given the opportunity to do so.

In 2016, G Adventures announced a collection of wildlife-focused tours endorsed by Dr. Jane Goodall, who reviewed and congratulated the company on its animal welfare policy.

To read G Adventures’ animal welfare policy, please click here.

Saga Holidays

Wildlife viewing features strongly in Saga’s itineraries with excursions forming an important part of customer holiday experiences. ABTA’s guidance manuals are currently helping the company to assess its whole range of holiday packages that involve contact with animals.

With the help of the Born Free Foundation and the ABTA guidance manuals Saga Holidays continues to review its animal attractions with the aim of bringing holidays in line with animal welfare best practice. They will alter or remove animal attractions where necessary, ensuring this is done sustainably by educating suppliers as needed.

TUI Group

TUI has engaged suppliers of all their animal excursions to publicise the guidelines and to begin the audit process. Prompted by this work, and influenced by its partnership with World Animal Protection, in July 2015 TUI decided to withdraw completely from elephant riding and elephant shows across all its operations — this was achieved by the end of 2016. Instead, TUI offers ‘elephant-friendly excursions where our customers can see and learn about elephants in a way that avoids unnatural behaviours’.

Adherence to the ABTA Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism is a component of all supplier contracts.

The auditing programme continues to prioritise an independent audit against ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism as a condition to being a supplier of animal excursions for TUI Group.

In addition, the company has set up the TUI Care Foundation, an independent charitable foundation through which TUI Group invests in sustainability programmes in destinations. Among other initiatives, significant funding has been agreed to protect around 1,500 elephants in Thailand and one million newly hatched turtles across five TUI holiday destinations. 

To read TUI Group’s approach to animal welfare and biodiversity, please click here

Virgin Holidays

In 2014, as the public became increasingly aware of problems concerning captive cetaceans, Virgin Holidays took the initiative by engaging with its stakeholders to better understand the tourism issues involved. As a result, Virgin pledged to no longer feature attractions that continue to take whales and dolphins from the ocean and has also committed to explore a long-term vision for captive cetaceans.

In February 2017, Virgin Holidays made clear that it would not be adding any new attractions that feature captive whales and dolphins for theatrical shows, contact sessions (such as ‘swim-with’ programmes) or other entertainment purposes to its programme. Virgin also said it would help fund the creation of coastal sanctuaries for whales and dolphins, as well as promote conservation in their natural habitats. 

In July 2019 Virgin Holidays announced its decision to stop sales and promotion of captive cetacean (whale and dolphin) attractions.

To see Virgin Holidays’ approach to cetaceans, please click here.

Please read our FAQs

Why is animal welfare important to the travel industry? 
Animal attractions and experiences are now a common part of many holidays, but while these are undoubtedly popular, customers want to be assured of good animal welfare standards. 

In ABTA’s latest Holiday Habits research two-thirds (66%) of people said that they have concerns about the wider impacts of tourism and how animals are treated. Viewing or interacting with animals is popular with holidaymakers as well as an important attraction for local communities. These need to be managed in the right way to safeguard the welfare of animals.

What are the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines? 
The 2019 edition of the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines sets out basic welfare requirements and unacceptable practices. These are practical guides for travel providers to issue to their suppliers, for tourist boards in destinations, for destination governments and ultimately and most importantly, for animal attraction and experience suppliers.

How were ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines developed?
The guidelines have been developed in consultation with a broad range of experts across NGOs, academia and industry, including animal welfare experts, the manuals ensure that everyone working in the travel industry can be informed and up to date with the latest guidance and good practice in animal welfare. 

What practices are considered unacceptable?
ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines lists activities have been classified as unacceptable, as defined by evidence supplied by experts:

1.    Unacceptable practices involving animals in captive attractions 

  • Animal breeding or commercial trade in sanctuaries and orphanages 
  • Any tourist holding of, or photo opportunity with, wild animals where the animal does not have the choice of terminating the interaction or moving away
  • Performances or tourist interactions involving wild animals where training involves punishment or food deprivation, causes the animal fear, injury or distress, or the tasks are not based on normal behaviour 
  • Tourist contact or feeding elephants without a barrier 
  • Elephant shows or performances for tourists
  • Tourist contact, feeding of and “walking with” wild cats 
  • Tourist contact or feeding of crocodiles or alligators 
  • Tourist contact or feeding of great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, bonobos) 
  • Tourist contact or feeding of bears 
  • Tourist contact or feeding of sloths
  • The feeding of animals with live vertebrate prey
  • Canned hunting
  • Ostrich riding (observing or participating)
  • Unlicensed zoos 
  • Euthanasia, unless carried out by a trained professional because welfare needs cannot be met, or because the animal cannot be released into the wild
  • Acquisition of any CITES Appendix I, II or III listed species except for conservation or rescue/rehabilitation purposes
  • The manual for cetaceans (aquatic mammals, such as whales, dolphins, porpoises) is still under review, but tourist contact or feeding of orca, and unsupervised tourist feeding of cetaceans are unacceptable.

2.    Unacceptable practices involving animals in cultural events and activities

  • Animals used for begging (for example, dancing bears, snake charming, primates). 
  • Bear pits 
  • Tiger farms. 
  • Any animal fighting, whether against humans or other animals.
  • Bull running. 
  • Rodeo events that include calf-roping, teamroping, steer wrestling, bareback horse/bull riding using flank straps, wild-cow milking, wild horse racing or horse/steer-tripping.
  • Ritual animal slaughter as part of the tourism experience.

3.    Unacceptable practices involving free-roaming wild animals

  • Unregulated animal and plant collection from the wild 
  • Human-initiated contact with and feeding of animals in the wild
  • Trade and sale of endangered wildlife products 
  • Trophy hunting